Succeeding in 2018 – The One Thing

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As of right now, there are a lot of expectations laid on the shoulders of the 2017 – 2018 edition of the Calgary Flames. After righting the ship mid-season, they coasted into the playoffs, only to get swept in 4 against their arch-nemeses, the Anaheim Ducks. Despite the consecutive losses, the series was actually closer than the final outcome actually dictated. Since the season ended, GM Brad Treliving has not sat idle. The team has definitely upgraded over last season’s edition.

The goaltending issue of last year has been addressed. Brian Elliott was allowed to walk and back up goalie Chad Johnson was traded to Arizona. Rather, Elliott was not offered a new deal after his current one expired, and fellow free agent Johnson had his rights traded – in addition to defensive prospect Brandon Hickey and a conditional 2018 3rd round draft pick – to Arizona for Mike Smith. The Coyotes also wind up absorbing 25% of Smith’s $6.6 million dollar annual cap hit (that’s approximately $1.7 million in savings). There was a lot of initial speculation that Johnson would eschew an offer from the Coyotes and re-sign as a free agent with hometown Calgary. An offer never materialized and Johnson signed with Buffalo.

Additionally, Flames GM Brad Treliving was able to nab Eddie Lack from the Carolina Hurricanes, not only for Keegan Kanzig and a 2019 draft pick, but he managed to save money – again – by having Carolina retain 50% of Lack’s salary. (Doesn’t it almost seem weird to have another team pay a portion of your player’s salary?)

Not only did the Flames (arguably) upgrade seriously in net, Treliving then went out and acquired Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, along with a fourth round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft. The cost? Calgary’s first and second round picks in the 2018 NHL Draft and a second round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft. While the team loses possibly valuable picks, they do not give up any current keeper players or prospects. Hamonic will replace the departed Dennis Wideman, and ask any fan of the Flames, he will not be missed.

While all this change and upgrading is good, fans need to be cautioned that although the team has signalled that it is now ready to contend for the Cup, there is one thing it absolutely has to accomplish this upcoming season to be taken as a legitimate threat.

Beat. The. Curse.

 

Calgary has upgraded significantly from last season and the moves Brad Treliving has made has sent the signal that the team is now ready to go all out for the post-season. No more sneaking in through the wild card door, the team is going to go gunning for seeding. Calgary can be expected to jockey for position with the likes of the Edmonton Oilers, the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks.

Throughout the years, the Flames have traded even blows with the Sharks and, up until last season, they basically “owned” the Oilers for the better part of a decade and a half. While the Oilers took all the games last season, Flames fans didn’t lose sleep over the losses: All the Battle of Alberta games took place during various Calgary slumps and the fanbase was happy to point this out to the smug and arrogant Oilers’ fans who finally had something to cheer about after eleven seasons.

One team they have not had any success against happen to be the Ducks. With one regular season win in Anaheim in 13 1/2 years, any time these two teams are scheduled to play each other, fans watch almost resigned to the eventual outcome. There is always the support of “we’ll beat the curse tonight!”, but while the hope has always been there, it has always seemed half-hearted. This upcoming season though, feels a bit different.

Herein lies the key to not just a successful season but success in the playoffs as well. The Calgary Flames have to build around a game plan to beat the Ducks. Only when they figure out a way to stand up to the Pacific Division bullies will they be considered true post-season threats.

This is not the first time the team has had to figure out a way to beat a nemesis opponent. It happened in the 1980’s. “Badger” Bob Johnson and “Trader” Cliff Fletcher built a team that could finally knock off the Edmonton Oilers. Once that happened, the league took notice of the small market team from Southern Alberta. In 1984, the team took Edmonton to seven games. In 1986, the Flames knocked the Oilers off in seven games, winning a tightly contested series which ultimately propelled the team into its first Stanley Cup appearance against the Montreal Canadiens.

The point is, this is not new territory or a new idea. It has happened before. It CAN happen again. It can all start as early as this season, as all eyes focus onto the Honda Center in Anaheim on October 9 in anticipation of finally putting an end to The Curse.

Uphill Battle: Underdogs Face Monumental Task

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Here it is, the 2017 NHL playoff matches were solidified on Sunday (April 9) and with it seemingly impossible tasks for at least two teams.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, led by Austin Matthews, face the league juggernaut Washington Capitals in a battle that many are predicting will be a sweep of the Blue Buds. The other monumtental task faces the Johnny Gaudreau-led Calgary Flames. While these two teams should match up closer on paper than they do on the ice, nobody is predicting a 4-game series in this one. However a vast majority are still predicting a Ducks’ victory, in five or six games.

This certainly has the Calgary Flames fan base seething and – pardon the pun – seeing red. After the final two regular season games between these teams, coupled with “the streak” in Anaheim, the play of certain Ducks’ players and Ducks’ GM Bob Murray’s comments calling Flames’ Captain Mark Giordano a “dirty player”, a great many people spoken to admit they want to see the team get at least a modicum of revenge on the team seen as most fowl (yes, I used a really bad pun) in the city of Calgary.

One thing is certain: If the Flames wind up being drawn in to the Ducks’ game, the series is over fast. Players like Matt Tkachuk, Micheal Ferland, Deryk Engelland and Sam Bennet will have to walk the line in this series, avoid taking stupid penalties and at the same time be the quartet to get under the skin of the likes of Perry, Getzlaf, and Kesler.

For the Flames to have a real chance, they need to force the turnover, embrace puck possession, stand up at the blueline, keep the ducks out of the middle of the ice and up against the boards, and make life unpleasant as possible in the crease for Anaheim’s John Gibson. Additionally, “the curse” has to be laid to rest once and for all.

While I do not expect to see Toronto win more than one game this year (sorry Leafs fans, but I am being objective here), I think that Calgary can stretch this series to either six or seven games. Of course this means they have to learn to win again at the Honda Center. Their last win there did come in the playoffs – in 2005-2006. If they can win one game in Anaheim, then they will have to run the table in Calgary at the Saddledome.

As far as true first round upsets go, there are only really two that would be considered shockers: Toronto upsetting the Capitals, and The Flames upsetting Anaheim. The best chance of an upset starts Thursday in California. As long as Brian Elliott stays hot and keeps playing the way he has the last eight weeks, Calgary’s chances improve dramatically.

While it is a definite uphill battle, the Flames can beat the Ducks as long as they play Calgary Flames hockey. Remember the 5 goals in 6 minutes scored back in December of this season:

Go Flames go!

Flames draw Ducks in First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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With the Ducks defeating the Kings in overtime, they finish 1st in the division, which means they will play the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs.

It was just 2 years ago that the Flames played the Ducks in a playoff series. It was quite an exciting series, but the Flames lost it in 5 games. Of course its hard not to talk about the Flames’ failure to get wins in Anaheim, but their last win in Anaheim came in a playoff series in 2006 that they won 5-2. But that is not the biggest story of this series right now.

The last time the Flames played the Ducks was April 4. We all know how that turned out: The Flames went up 1-0 after playing a very strong first period. Then the Ducks scored 2 straight to lead 2-1 going into the 3rd, when things got out of hand. In the 3rd period alone there were 106 penalty minutes handed out. Most fights broke out largely due to a controversial hit from Captain Mark Giordano on Duck defenseman Cam Fowler.

The Ducks’ strength comes on the back end with their defense, but it took a big blow against the Flames with Cam Fowler going down with a knee injury.

“I have no use … I mean, the big thing in hockey today is concussions, but I still, as an old player, have no use for knee-on-knee hits, and especially if I think they are somewhat intentional. I hear how Gio is a good guy, and he’s this and he’s that. The media in Toronto is saying, ‘Well, he’s a good guy.’ Well, he’s done this before. I have no respect for people who go after knees. I’m sorry, but knees, they wreck your careers real quick. I don’t like it.” Ducks GM Bob Murray said this to the media following the game.

Cam Fowler will be out from 2-6 weeks, so he is likely going to miss the full series, of course you don’t want to see anyone get hurt, but that will help the Flames.

With all that occurred in that game April 4th,  fans of both teams could expect a lot of rough stuff from the Ducks and Flames come Thursday. Almost everyone is  certain that Ducks players may take a run at Mark Giordano, (Cough Cough Kevin Bieksa). Be sure tempers will flare come playoff time.

The Flames have played the Ducks in 2 playoffs series, they played in the 2005-2006 year where they lost in 7 games. They also played in the 2014-2015 season where they lost in 5 games. Their playoff record against the Ducks is 4 wins 8 losses.

Some things to watch for:

Michael Ferland is a lot more valuable in the playoffs. In the Flames surprising playoff appearance in 2015, Michael Ferland was a true leader. His role was to hit, annoy the other team, repeat. Which worked very well. Ferland’s big hits would get the crowd into it, would get the team into it, and most importantly would get the opponents mad at him and get them to take a bad penalty. Be sure to watch Ferland and Kevin Bieksa, because they really don’t like each other. Ferland also produced some scoring, mainly his goal to start the comeback in game 6 against the Canucks, but his rugged, physical play will be a big factor in this series.

Flames are a much more experienced team when it comes to the playoffs now. With the additions of Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg the Flames now have loads of playoff experience. On the roster the Flames have a combined 475 playoff games played. These player should be valuable in helping out players like Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett when the playoffs come.

Also Jon Gillies has been recalled by the Flames which likely says something about Chad Johnson’s injury. But it will be Brian Elliott who will be playing every game unless the injury bug bites him. Last year with St. Louis he had a great playoff run, and he will need to be a factor in this series especially in Anaheim.

The series starts Thursday 10:30 ET/8:30 MT. Flames vs Ducks. Its going to be a good physical series, so get ready.

 

The Playoffs Are Officially Back In Calgary

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Coming off a convincing 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks, the Flames clinch a playoff berth (their second time in 3 years).

 After a disappointing season last year, the playoffs have returned to Calgary.  But this year the team is much stronger and more complete. This season was full of ups and downs, here was there season summed up in a few lines:

  • Bad Start
  • Gaudreau Injury
  • Chad Johnson Steps up and goes on impressive 11-4-1 run
  • The team goes on a bad 4 game losing streak ultimately being dressed down publicly by an angry coach
  • Brian Elliott picks it up and the Flames start winning
  • They go on a 10 game winning streak
  • They Clinch a playoff spot

So now that the Flames have clinched a playoff spot its time to start thinking about match-ups. Right now the biggest possibilities for the Flames to play are:

Anaheim Ducks:

Right now the most likely match-up for the Flames is the Anaheim Ducks, which may scare some Flames fans. Of course everyone knows about the struggles at the Honda Center. The Flames haven’t won in Anaheim since 2004. But this year’s Flames team is one of the best Flames team I have seen in a long time, If the Flames play the Ducks in a series I wouldn’t be surprised if they finally got a win in Anaheim. The Ducks are currently leading the season series 2-1 and they will be in Calgary Sunday.

Edmonton Oilers:

If you are any kind of hockey fan you want to see a Battle Of Alberta playoff series. It would be a fantastic, entertaining series that nobody would want to miss. But the Flames have struggled against the Oilers this year, the Oilers swept the Season series 4-0. The Oilers played the Flames 2 times in the beginning of the year and we all know how that turned out(7-4 loss, 5-3 loss). Flames lost in a shootout the next meeting and got embarrassed at home losing 7-3. However, all of these games were before the Flames got really hot and put together an amazing final stretch to the end of the season. The thing about the Oilers is their lack of playoff experience, Connor McDavid (a very large part of the Oilers success) has never played a playoff game, neither has Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle. That could play a factor into the Oilers success in the playoffs and if the Flames would want that match-up.

San Jose Sharks:

It does not look likely that the Flames will play the Sharks but anything can happen. The Flames have done well against San Jose this year, they are leading the season series 3-1. But the Sharks obviously have lots of talent and players that come up big during the playoffs like Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau etc. But given the success the Flames have had against the Sharks and the Sharks recent struggles I wouldn’t mind this as a first round match-up.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Nobody would ever want to play the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, and I would think every Flames fan feels the same way, we do not want to see the Flames play the Blackhawks in a series.

Right now the Flames hold the 1st Wild Card spot with 92 points, they are chasing down the Sharks (93 points), the Oilers (95 points) and the Ducks (96 points). With the remainder of the Flames schedule all against California teams it will be an interesting finish to the season.

What do you think? Who would you want the Flames to play in the first Round? And why? Comment what you think below or on my Twitter, @JMannFlames!

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